Heavy rains wreak havoc

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mbombela - Heavy downpours have wrecked households, lodges and cut off communities in Mpumalanga's Lowveld and some parts of Limpopo this week.

In Nkomazi, along the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique, 49 houses collapsed while communities in areas like Finale between Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa were cut-off from the outside world.

On Wednesday, as much as 300mm of rain fell in Hoedspruit within hours, forcing local lodges to evacuate their guests.

"The rivers are breaking their banks everywhere. Anyone with a winch was driving around Hoedspruit trying to rescue bakkies or trucks that were stuck or flooded," said Hoedspruit resident Pippa Moolman, who also owns Djuma Private Game Reserve in the Hluvukani area.

The Djuma Private Game Reserve in Sabi Sands and Camp Jabulani in the Kapama Private Reserve were damaged and some tourists were evacuated from the suites to higher ground.

"All the gates to Sabi Sands were closed today because of the flooding," said Moolman.

She said driving in the area was a nightmare for motorists.

"A car tried to drive through a river on the road to the (Hoedspruit Airforce) base and the water came up to its roof."

Manager of Camp Jabulani in Hoedspruit, Adine Roode, said guests had to be evacuated across a suspended bridge when part of the camp was flooded and a local river was breaking its banks.

"No tourists were injured and the water is subsiding," said Roode.

The heavy rains that wreaked havoc in the Lowveld are linked to the Dando cyclone that hit north of Maputo on Sunday.

South African Weather Service forecaster Elizabeth Webster said 269mm fell in a space of 24 hours at the Hoedspruit Airforce base while 190mm rainfall was recorded at Skukuza rest camps in the Kruger National Park.

However, residents like Moolman have recorded much higher rainfall.

"It rained more than 300mm at our house in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate and that happened in a space of 18 hours. Usually we will get between 400 and 700mm of rainfall in a year," she explained.

The Hoedspruit Adventure Centre camp along the Blyde River has also been flooded since the rains started this week.

The Blyde and the Olifants rivers have both broken their banks, while smaller usually dry riverbeds are now full swollen rivers. The Olifants and Blyde rivers reported 3118.43 and 688 cubic metres per second respectively.

Residents around Hoedspruit were on Wednesday becoming concerned about a quarry in town that quickly filled up and posed a risk of flooding parts of the town.

Hoedspruit police station commissioner Colonel Daniel Ramakgoakgoa said there were no deaths or missing persons reported due to the floods.

"Some bridges around town have been swept away. The bridge near Parma 7km out of town on the road to Orighstad was totally swept away," said Ramakgoakgoa, stating that the Blyde Dam was 111% full while Klaserie Dam was 108% full.
"We don't know what the extent of the damage is and we are continuously monitoring the area to respond to the needs that may arise," said Limpopo provincial government spokeswoman Tseng Diale.

In Mpumalanga spokesperson for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Simphiwe Kunene said government officials held an emergency meeting in Nkomazi late Wednesday afternoon to determine the damage to infrastructure and households.

Food parcels and blankets were handed to those in need.

In Limpopo, the Maruleng municipal offices in Hoedspruit were flooded and some areas in the municipality and the neighbouring Ba-Phalaborwa local municipality were declared disaster areas.

"Communities in areas like Finale were cut-off as a result of inaccessible roads," said Diale.

In Mbombela, maintenance work and the closure of a water canal was postponed due to flood threats after 70mm fell in 24 hours.

The South African Air Force also made planes and helicopters available to the provincial governments in the area to assist with evacuations and aid.

"Disaster Management is already on site rescuing some community members who can't cross over some roads and rivers. There are no casualties or death cases reported at the moment," said Diale.

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